Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And Now Your iPod can Kill


This sniper rifle features an iPod mount.

The pod (either the iPhone or iPod touch) is used for doing long-range shot calculations in order to compensate for variables such as range, heat, humidity, relative elevation between the shooter and target, cross winds, as well as the rotation of the Earth beneath the bullet's flight path.You can download this "killer" software app. from the iTunes online store.

Maybe we need a new collalary to William Gibson's observation that the street finds its own uses for tech.

Warfighting turns all things to its needs?

Now I'll never look at my sweet little Nano with such trusting eyes again.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Doing the School App Thing

Spent the day running around putting together application packages. One way or the other it is back to school come summer. The nice thing is that it will be at an in-state tuition rate. Schweet!

Stump Town in Winter

Mt. Hood as seen from the Oregon Health and Sciences University campus, overlooking downtown.

A decapitated Mt. Saint Helens steams away on the horizon

That bright white bit on the lower left flank of Saint Helens is actually a part of Mt. Rainier. That we can see it from here in Portland might give you an idea of just how huge THAT volcano is.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Literary Mind and the Digital Mind

So I wrote this letter to a friend that goes as follows:

There was a guest on NPR who talked about how the Internet is causing us to lose our literary minds. Basically the literary mind is the mind shaped by reading books. It has become increasingly common since the invention of the Gutenberg press, and unlike the pre-literary mind which is steeped in firsthand knowledge of the surrounding natural world, the literary mind is much more focused on cultural knowledge (history, laws, economics, etc…).

The speaker argued that Google, Wikipedia, and all the other knowledge seeking software out there are eroding the literary mind.

Rather than focusing on a theme for an extended period of time like book readers do, Internet users are short-term ADD thinkers who lookup a cloud of related knowledge concerning whatever topic is at hand, and then they move on.

The speaker was of course worried about a loss of depth and understanding.

On the other hand, it occurred to me that the digital mind, the one shaped by the Internet, may well end up being an adaptation to an evermore complex and interlinked world. Planet Earth was a much simpler place when it was broken up into isolated, monoculture regions. Depth and immersion were affordable luxuries in that environment.

Our world, of course, is far more complex today. It is one shaped by a multitude of interacting cultures, and by vast bodies of scientific and engineering knowledge. The average citizen is faced by dilemmas involving medical knowledge and treatment options that did not exist 50 years ago. In a year she may meet and interact with more people from foreign cultures than her grandparents did in their entire lifetime.

The emerging digital mind may well suit a world in which everyone must at least know a little about a lot.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Day Out on the Coast

Maybe the whole economic man thing is overrated. Or at least, it's offer of assurance is. After all, I had just finished the last bit of $1600 dollars worth of maintenance on my car - all the big-ticket stuff that it would need for at least six years considering how little I drove it - and then I had that car destroyed out from underneath me.

So I think I'll go back to school, finish the history BA while I still have the GI Bill to spend.

It's not the wisest thing to do, leaving a job that's pretty much guaranteed for the next five years at least. Especially as it may well get pretty ugly with the economy.

Also, BAs and BSs are just not worth that much these days. I work alongside five individuals who have bachelor of science degrees in biology, and they're all making the same amount of money as I am. The only thing that they have that I don't is 20,000 to 30,000 in student loan debts.

Still, staying in the comfortable job seems like the lower quality thing to do.

Besides, it may not be the degree so much as the opportunities that go with school: networking, research opportunities, a chance to meet people in the field and even just looking at all of the tangential professions...

If worse comes to worst, I can always just fight my way back into the monkey herding industry. It's not like there are a lot of us with experience in this highly specialized field.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

It was a Year

So it was a year that held two brushes with the hereafter: A staph infection, then a car crash.

So much for attempting to live a quiet life then.

One of my favorite books read this year was Jawbreaker, in which retired CIA officer Gary Bernsten recounts directing the war against al-Qaida on the ground in late 2001.

At one point, he writes about a conversation with an associate on how people chose to be either economic men or adventure men. I've certainly lived most of my adult life as the latter, but have been trying to make the switch to the former these last two years. I've done well at it, landing a secure, decent paying job, getting my finances in order, and still managing to move to and travel across the Pacific Northwest.


But the job part of being an economic man sucks. The new job in Portland with its six-day workweeks and mandatory overtime has certainly been a disappointment. It's certainly nowhere near as much fun as the job in Reno was.

So, do I go back to the Army? Do I take my chances on leaving a secure, adequate job during the opening of what is sure to be a severe economic crisis to go back to school full time? Alternatively, do I combine full-time work and part-time school?

I'm definitely moving downtown next summer when the lease is up. Settling out here in Beaverton was a mistake. Yeah it's convenient to live next door to work, but I did not move to this region for an easy commute.

I came here to live at a heightened, sustainable degree of intensity.

Economic sustainability is what prompted me to make the jump to economic man in the first place. And I can't honestly say that it's a bad thing. I've certainly dared a lot during my time, taken my share of risks, and enjoyed some heady triumphs, but I've smacked into the ground hard a few times too. This last time, getting divorced, was the worst, both emotionally and in terms of forgone opportunities. If I keep this up, sooner or later, I will end up being permanently bitter and/or destitute.

Of course, it's not necessarily an either-or choice. There is a spectrum of opportunity. Right now I am going with a full spread of applications to other employers and schools and see what comes through.

As terrible 2008 as was for so many, it was a rather good to me. I'm established, I have economic security, and above all, I'm finally living in the Pacific Northwest!

When I was moving here, driving through the steep hill country south of Eugene on a misty day of gray and green, a thought occurred to me: "You belong to this."

That realization has struck me many times since then, while traveling the countryside or walking downtown. I am now a part and parcel of this place. I am very much where I belong on this earth; everything else is a matter of working out details.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


I spent New Years Eve eating sushi, cleaning the apartment, getting my head ready for the next year, and drinking sake.

Whiskey and stollen

As it turns out, the cloudy white kind of sake is not a good thing to drink in any significant quantity, especially if you have to work the next day. Fortunately, being outdoors amidst the rain and monkeys helped to keep my head clear.

Sometimes I feel like a foreigner in my own homeland. Why do we Americans wear our dirty shoes into our dwellings, tracking around all the filth that we've walked through where we sleep and eat? No one else in the world seems to do so.

The me wall.

The planning nook. Often on Saturday mornings (when I'm not being forced to work) I'll stare at the maps until a destination for the day comes to mind. Then its out the door and on to the road.

The war god

The un-war god. Yes, I know. In reality he was mortal who obtained enlightenment rather than a deity.

Germany, Korea, and Italy, respectively.

My favorite poster.